Sir John Hawkins
Today's speaker was Gawain COle who returned to tell us of the almost forgotten sailor, Sir John Hawkins.
Hawkins was the first Englishman to be involved in the Slave Trade and it is possibly this fact which led to his lack of recognition by historians.
He was born in Plymouth to a seafaring family which made large fortunes in the shipping trade, bringing produce from South America which was currently being colonised by the Spanish. This was at a time when Britain was no morre than a tiny island on the edge of Europe, where all the money and power resided and all the trade followed the Silk Road to the Orient and eastwards. Any goods getting to Britain were hugely expensive because of bandits and border charges at every stage.
Hawkins realised that a way could be found westwards to bypass Europe and set out to London to raise sponsorship for a trade expedition. This worked well and he made large profits. On this expedition he took 400 Black Africans fleeing from death on the Guinea cost to the Caribbean where they were sold as slaves.
He realised that the current warship design was focussed on carrying a large contingent of soldiers who would be deployed to board the enemy vessel after coming alongside and fight hand-to-hand. This meant that the ships were very unwieldly and prone to capsizing.
Because of his trading successes he was given the position of First Sea Lord and allowed to build a fleet of fighting ships which were to be the basic design for the next 300 years. This fleet was used successfully to defeat the Armada after Philip of Spain had tried to finish off Britain's dominance of the sea routes to the West.
His talk concluded with a number of questions and a lively discussion.